Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs opponent preview: Rams, Week 3

When they play: Week 3 (Sept. 25) in Tampa

2015 record: 7-9.

Last time vs. Bucs: The Rams won 31-23 in Week 15 on a Thursday night in December — remember those all-red "Color Rush" Bucs uniforms? The Bucs were down 28-6 at one point, with Case Keenum throwing for two touchdowns as part of Tampa Bay's 0-4 finish last season.

2016 outlook: The Rams' defense and running back Todd Gurley make an imposing combination, even with a rookie or lower-tier quarterback. When the Rams scored 19 or more points last year, they went 7-0; when they scored 18 or less, they went 0-9. They went 1-3 when Gurley was sidelined or limited by injury, so there's optimism of how good they could be with him healthy for a full season. He was quiet during a five-game losing streak last November that saw them dive from 4-3 to 4-8 irrelevance.

Player to watch: DT Aaron Donald is the best young defensive tackle in the NFL, with 20 sacks in his first two seasons. He's the kind of disruptive force opposing game plans are build around, and he's still emerging as an NFL star and potential Defensive Player of the Year.

Rookie to watch: QB Jared Goff was the No. 1 overall pick for the Rams, and yet might be their No. 3 QB and inactive when they come to Tampa. Goff had five turnovers against two touchdown passes in the preseason, so Case Keenum — there he is again — will start and Sean Mannion might be the No. 2. Lots of upside here, but he won't come in like Jameis Winston and play every snap.

Key matchup: Bucs offense vs. scoreboard: Nothing showed the "yards vs. points" problems of last year's Tampa Bay offense like this game — stopped on a fourth-and-1 to kill a 73-yard drive, with two other long drives stalled in the red zone as field goals instead of touchdowns. The Bucs defense lost this game last year, falling behind 21-3 at halftime, but the offense couldn't get much less out of a 509-yard effort.

Familiar face: Former Bucs first-rounder Mark Barron shined in 2015 — and scored a five-year, $45-million contract — after being dealt off for late-round picks by the Bucs in 2014. The Rams used him creatively, often in a linebacker role, and he finished with 116 tackles and three forced fumbles.

Cool stat: The Rams had the worst pass offense in the NFL last year, averaging just 183 yards per game -- the Vikings were the only other team within 35 yards of them. They finished with just 11 touchdown passes — 22 NFL teams had twice that much. Despite having Gurley, the Rams had the NFL's worst third-down offense, converting just 25.9 percent — no other team was under 30.

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